In this day and age, writing an academic thesis without access to scholarly research or the internet sounds virtually impossible. Yet this is the reality experienced by many university students in Somalia, which has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world. The lack of digital connectivity drastically inhibits learning across the country, and can prevent the education sector from fulfilling its role as a driver of economic and social development.
In an effort to change this circumstance, the Somali Research and Education Network (SomaliREN) has brought several higher education institutions together under a single umbrella to improve connectivity in education facilities, foster digital learning communities, and promote academic content for Somali students.
Launched on July 18, the SomaliREN is currently made up of 19 institutions. It maintains its own network operations center, and has already deployed a 155 Mbit/s connection to seven universities, translating into roughly 20 Mbps of bandwidth for each institution.
There’s no question that agriculture is critical to Africa’s biggest development goals. It is fundamental for poverty reduction, economic growth and environment sustainability. African food market continues to grow. It is estimated that African food markets will triple to US$1 trillion from its current US$300 billion value. Farming accounts for 60% of total employment in Sub-Saharan Africa—and food system jobs account for even more. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, the food system is projected to add more jobs than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2025.
And yet, Africa’s agriculture sector is facing serious challenges. Agricultural productivity in Africa lags behind other regions. One in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically undernourished. Africa’s food system is further strained by rapid population growth and climate change. The food security challenge will only grow as climate change intensifies, threatening crop and livestock production. If no adaptation occurs, production of maize—which is one of Africa’s staple crops—could decline by up to 40% by 2050. Clearly, business as usual approaches to agriculture in Africa aren’t fit for transforming the sector to meet its full potential.
Amateur mappers the world over have long known that they can support global development, from the comfort of their homes, through one simple tool: OpenStreetMap (OSM). What has been less clear is how we can build this effort into the fabric of World Bank operations.
OSM has revolutionized geography. It is the ‘Wikipedia’ of mapping: anyone can edit the map by tracing features such as roads and buildings against free, high-quality satellite imagery. In contrast to other map services, the platform is entirely open: anyone can download a layer of the roads and buildings that make up the map. It is built for the people, by the people, in all regions of the world. It epitomizes the best features of open digital collaboration: leading-edge technology made freely available to all, regardless of location. Because everyone can contribute, OSM maps are often much more complete than commercial alternatives—especially in areas that are hard to survey, such as informal settlements].
The World Bank makes frequent use of OSM for research purposes, and occasionally supports one-off initiatives to complete OSM maps in specific areas, e.g. after natural disasters (Nepal and Haiti are recent examples). But we have put less effort into nurturing the community of altruistic mapping volunteers who make OSM so special, and play a critical role in keeping the map updated over time.
A recent series of initiatives, however, is bucking that trend.
Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu is defined by a complex mix of challenges and opportunities. Despite political and economic struggles, Somalis are innovating to break the chronic cycle of vulnerability. Supported in many cases by the international Somali diaspora, people in Mogadishu are using technology to solve problems and tap into new markets.
One initiative poised to accelerate this is the iRise Tech Hub, Mogadishu’s first innovation hub, co-founded by Awil Osman. iRise connects entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups to share ideas and collaborate on a variety of issues ranging from developing an online food delivery startup, to creating an open space for Somalis to incubate ideas. The Somali concept of Ilawadaag—roughly translated as ‘share with me’—is put into practice at iRise to help entrepreneurs get feedback and network with other innovators.
The nature of the workforce is changing. By 2030, 50% of today’s jobs will be redundant. In the United States, 47% of current jobs are predicted to be automated. Participating in the workforce of the future will require the ability to innovate through technology. Since Intel is seeking to redefine what it means to be an innovator by expanding who has access to technology skills and experiences, the annual World Bank Youth Summit in Washington DC was an ideal venue to engage with young entrepreneurs.
On December 4th – 5th, the World Bank Group welcomed 400 youth from over 100 countries to the 2017 event focused on Technology and Innovation for Impact and included a competition in which six finalists pitched their ideas to attendees and expert judges. I was graciously selected by the Youth Summit to participate as an expert judge. Finalists were selected from more than 500 applicants and were limited to seven minutes to pitch their ideas making sure to cover the following criteria:
Clarity, scope, and relevance of the problem and of the proposed solution
Innovation and originality
Feasibility of implementation
Potential for impact
The finalists’ projects ranged from concept to implemented and included weather insurance for farmers in Mali, e-clinics for women in Pakistan, energy reform using blockchain in India, mobile application for charity in South Africa, a platform to formalize the domestic worker sector in Southeast Asia, and the collection of vital statistics in neonatal health services in Nigeria.
Humanitarian and development efforts serve two distinct and complementary objectives. Humanitarian work focuses on responding to emergency situations in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. Development, on the other hand, takes a longer-term approach that seeks to address the social and economic aspects of crises, especially as they become protracted.
Following milestones such as the World Humanitarian Summit, the momentum is strong for humanitarian and development communities to work together in complementary ways—not in sequence—to bridge the humanitarian-development divide. Development institutions are engaging much earlier than in the past, emphasizing the need to focus more on prevention and building resilience where they can play an active role.
Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), we now have new ways of bridging the divide and integrating these two efforts. First, ICT platforms can bring development partners together to analyze, design, and track progress in a more unified and efficient way. They also offer an integrated system where multiple communication channels can operate at the same time. As a result, the notion of “continuous” development, whereby development experts pick up the work where humanitarian agencies left off, is progressively giving way to “contiguous” development, which offers humanitarian and development teams a chance to work more closely together.
About 17 years ago, I began preparations for applying to colleges in America. One of the prerequisites to qualify for an undergraduate program was the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), administered at testing centers around the world. I vividly remember calling the number given to see how I faired in the test, standing at an international call center booth on a sunny afternoon in Islamabad, Pakistan, my heart beating fast with anticipation. The call cost Rs.100/minute at the time ($1.05/min at the current rate). But despite the expensive price tag, the service delivered information I desperately needed.
Fast forward to the age of Google Voice, WhatsApp, Viber… You’ll agree that technology has not only advanced but services have become cheaper as well. Technology is entrenched in our everyday tasks—from communication to financial transactions, from expanding education to building resilience to natural disasters, and from informing transport planning to expanding energy to the unserved.
So, ask yourself: am I—a student, teacher, business owner, or a local government representative—reaping the full benefits of the greatest information and communication revolution in human history? With more than 40% of the world’s population with access to the internet and new users coming online every day, how can I help turn digital technologies into a development game changer? And how can the world close the global digital divide to make sure technology leaves no one behind?
Last year, we showcased how Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong Delta are adapting to climate change. You met two shrimp farmers: Nguyen Van Khuyen, who lost his shrimp production due to an exceptionally dry season that made his pond too salty for raising shrimp, and To Hoai Thuong, who managed to maintain normal production levels by diluting his shrimp pond with fresh water. Now, let’s suppose Nguyen diluted his shrimp pond this year, another year with an extremely dry season. That would be a good start, but there would be other issues to contend with related to practical application. For example, when should he release fresh water and how much? How often should he check the water salinity? And what if he’s out of town?
Nguyen’s story illustrates some of the problems global agriculture faces, and how they unfold for farmers on the ground. Rapid population growth, dietary shifts, resource constraints, and climate change are confronting farmers who need to produce more with less. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global food production will need to rise by 70% to meet the projected demand by 2050. Efficient management and optimized use of farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizer will be essential. However, managing these inputs efficiently is difficult without consistent and precise monitoring. For smallholder farmers, who account for 4/5 of global agricultural production from developing regions, getting the right information would help increase production gains. Unfortunately, many of them still rely on guess work, rather than data, for their farming decisions.
This is where agriculture can get a little help from the Internet of Things (IoT)—or internet-enabled communications between everyday objects. Through the IoT, sensors can be deployed wherever you want–on the ground, in water, or in vehicles–to collect data on target inputs such as soil moisture and crop health. The collected data are stored on a server or cloud system wirelessly, and can be easily accessed by farmers via the Internet with tablets and mobile phones. Depending on the context, farmers can choose to manually control connected devices or fully automate processes for any required actions. For example, to water crops, a farmer can deploy soil moisture sensors to automatically kickstart irrigation when the water-stress level reaches a given threshold.
Para la mayoría de la gente, ver el pronóstico del tiempo en la televisión es una actividad común, ocasionalmente divertida y sin riesgos. ¡El meteorólogo hasta puede hacernos reír! Pero cuando el ingreso de una familia depende de la lluvia o la temperatura, el pronóstico es más que un programa informativo o entretenido. La información puede ser la clave del éxito o del fracaso de un agricultor. Los agricultores conocen los riesgos a enfrentar en el camino y entonces usan el pronóstico del tiempo y otros datos de precios, plagas y enfermedades, cambios en condiciones de crédito y regulaciones para planificar las fechas de cultivo, cosecha, venta, y el uso de insumos como fertilizantes y herbicidas para plantas, y vacunas y alimento para animales.
La disponibilidad y la calidad de dicha información de riesgos agrícolas son altamente importantes para los agricultores y el posible impacto de información puede resultar muy costosa, lo que resulta en decisiones erróneas y pérdidas de ingresos por parte del agricultor. Los sistemas de información que no tienen fuentes confiables y/o tienen malos protocolos de procesamiento de datos, producen resultados en los cuales no se puede confiar. En otras palabras, “basura que entra, basura que sale”. La información es una parte integral de la gestión de riesgos agropecuarios, no solamente en el corto plazo para cubrirse contra eventos adversos, sino también en el mediano y largo plazo para adaptarse al cambio climático y poder adoptar prácticas resilientes. Los programas de gestión de riesgos agropecuarios y de agricultura climáticamente inteligente (Climate Smart Agriculture en inglés) no tendrán mucho impacto a no ser que los agricultores puedan tener acceso a información confiable para la implementación de los cambios necesarios en el campo.
Invertir en sistemas de información de riesgos agropecuarios es una forma costo-efectiva de asegurarse que los agricultores – y otros actores de la cadena agroalimentaria – tomen las decisiones correctas. Pero en una gran parte de los países, los sistemas de información de riesgos agropecuarios evidencian una gran falta de capacidad y escasez de financiamiento. Por ejemplo, México, un país con un sector agropecuario importante, no tiene información de precios del mercado local de productos agrícolas como el maíz, y es por esto que un nuevo proyecto financiado por el Banco Mundial tiene como objetivo ayudar a resolver este problema. Pero México no es el único. Argentina acaba de resolver este problema, también con apoyo del Banco Mundial, con la creación de un Sistema de Información de Precios de Mercado para los 7 granos básicos.